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TBR News June 30, 2018

Jun 29 2018

The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Isaiah 40:3-8

Washington, D.C. June 30, 2018: “In June of 2016, Mr. Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., Mr. Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, and his presidential chairman Paul Manafort met with a Russian lawyer when they were told the Russian intelligence had acquired highly damaging information concerning Mrs. Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Party candidate.

Russian property developer, Aras Agalarov had arragned this meeting. Subsequently the information gleaned from this meeting was given to Aras Agalarov from Russian prosecutor-general Yuri Chaika.

Because the Trumps, both father and son, were not discreet, the Central Intelligence Agency, who were subjecting both Trumps to surveillance, learned of some of the contacts with Russian government personnel and one of their internal memos spoke very disparingly of these contacts.

Subsequently, Mr. Manafort received a $10,000,000 “loan” from one Oleg Deripaska.

Deripaska, who owns a large aluminum company, is worth 3.7 billion dollars and is also known for his close ties to Russian president Vladimir Putin, as well as his connection to Paul Manafort, whom Deripaska employed from at least 2005 to 2009

Mr. Trump is extremely self-important and egotistical to a remarkable degree.

Mr. Trump fancies himself as a man to whom beautiful women were attracted.

That they were attracted to his money is more evident.

Mr. Trump was, and is, an overbearing and intolerant person.

He is subject to mood-swings in that what is acceptable today is not tomorrow.

He is easily led by women to whom he is initially very attentive and once he feels he had their purchased loyalty, proceeds to turn his attentions to other women.

As a businessman, Mr. Trump is erratic in the extreme. He owes very large sums of money, for example, to the Deutsche Bank, sums he somehow forgets to pay. He also owes large sums to Russian banks but in this case, he dare not neglect to pay.

Mr. Trump is so convinced of his superiority to others, and so easy to influence, that promises to one person could easily be forgotten when making identical promises to another.”

 

The Table of Contents

  • America the Hyperpowerful
  • The Trump Administration Is Reshaping the Country Under the Guise of National Security.
  • Protestors, lawmaker arrested in Senate building sit-in over immigration
  • Pentagon asked to house up to 32,000 illegal immigrants on military bases
  • Canada hits back at U.S. on tariffs, says it will not back down
  • Georgian ex-president sentenced in absentia for abuse of power
  • The Broken Encirclement Plan: Nato in Eastern Europe
  • Syrian offensive uprooted 120,000 people so far, U.N. warns of catastrophe
  • Turkey will keep importing Iranian crude
  • Facebook patents system that can use your phone’s mic to monitor TV habits
  • California lawmakers approve data-privacy bill opposed by Silicon Valley
  • Secrecy News

 

 

America the Hyperpowerful

We involve ourselves all over the world despite facing few security threats. What if it had turned out differently?

June 28, 2018

by Doug Bandow

The American Conservative

Just days after announcing that North Korea no longer posed a nuclear threat to the United States, the Trump administration decided that Pyongyang in fact still does pose a threat. So American sanctions against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea will continue. Just think of the horror that might have befallen our nation if the sneaky NORKs had gotten the drop on Washington!

At least, that appears to be the premise of American foreign policy at the moment. The U.S. is uniquely vulnerable and perpetually at risk. That means Washington must forever be at war, treating other nations’ enemies as our own.

During the Cold War, Washington’s adversaries included the Evil Empire, aka the Soviet Union, and mad Mao Tse-tung’s revolutionary paradise, along with a gaggle of Eastern satellite states conscripted by the Red Army. Revolutionary Vietnamese and Korean forces engaged in bitter civil wars, and a potpourri of Third World despots and guerrillas wrought instability.

At the time Moscow appeared to be a serious competitor, though it would ultimately prove to be a hollow threat. Mao’s threatening rhetoric sought to paper over his Communist Party’s decades of war against its own people. The People’s Republic of China would ultimately decide it had more to fear from the Soviet Union than from America.

Most of the peripheral battles had only an ephemeral impact. The U.S. could not save Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Poland as they sought to escape Moscow’s grasp, though they ultimately went free anyway. The bad guys won in Vietnam, but the Vietnamese now prefer America to China. A multitude of ferocious contests to control the world’s geopolitical basket cases mattered little.

Washington’s Cold War tendency of promiscuously intervening in other nations’ affairs could at least be excused by the Evil Empire’s looming power. However, when communism dissolved as a geopolitical reality, left in charge of little more than American academia, the U.S. reigned supreme. In terms of threats, as Gertrude Stein once said of Oakland, no longer was any there there.

America faced two different paths into the future. Democratic and Republican policymakers alike chose to glory in their omnipotence and set their hyperpower loose upon the globe. Washington attempted to do ever more: defend more nations through NATO, transform the Middle East, relieve rich Asian states of the need to protect themselves, bring democracy to Central Asia, enforce nonproliferation worldwide, socially engineer the globe, and more.

The alternative would have been to revel in America’s relative invulnerability. After all, Moscow’s military capabilities and geopolitical ambitions shrank dramatically, the Warsaw Pact dissolved, the PRC discarded Maoism, and revolutionary Third World states joined the new liberal Western order. Colin Powell, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, declared that he was running out of enemies, and that only Fidel Castro and Kim Il-sung were left. Both were nasty fellows, but nothing like Stalin and Mao, and neither could do much to hurt America.

Such a policy would have turned the U.S. into an off-shore balancer of sorts, leaving European and Asian allies with the immediate responsibility of responding to potential and modest threats from Russia and China and more immediate dangers from North Korea and other Third World aggressors. Doing so also would have created fewer future obligations: without U.S.-instigated NATO expansion and war against Serbia, there probably would have been no Russian annexation of Crimea and assault on Georgia and Ukraine. Had America stepped back from micro-managing the Middle East, Osama bin Laden might have looked elsewhere for targets. No garrison in Saudi Arabia, no support for assorted Mideast dictatorships, and less reflexive backing for repressive Israeli occupation policies would have reduced terrorists’ list of complaints.

Moreover, allowing the Koreas to resolve what is in essence a civil war that started 70 years ago would have allowed Washington to take a more relaxed view of the North’s nascent nuclear program. Indeed, Pyongyang might have suspended that effort had its security environment not turned so negative. And even if Pyongyang had gone ahead with a nuclear program—after all, Korea was long called a “shrimp among whales”—it would have been no more threatening to America than those of India and Pakistan. Much was said about North Korea’s Kim Il-sung, mostly bad, but no one thought he was suicidal, preparing an exit via nuclear funeral pyre. If American forces were no longer in South Korea, Pyongyang would have had little reason to concern itself with the U.S., let alone to threaten nuclear war.

Of course, the world turned out very differently and the latest Kim regime busily developed nuclear weapons. President Donald Trump responded by threatening to trigger a Second Korean War by attacking the DPRK. Yet no one believed that Kim intended to use his vast arsenal of between 15 and 60 nukes in a first strike on America. The real issue was fear that the U.S. would lose the ability to attack North Korea. That is, Washington had to bomb the DPRK to preserve Washington’s ability to bomb the DPRK, even if there was no defense need to bomb the DPRK. Maintaining America’s imperium, not protecting the homeland, was the overriding objective.

Consider the fervent establishment opposition—from liberals and neoconservatives alike—to proposals to withdraw U.S. troops from the Republic of Korea as part of a denuclearization deal. Those who last year detailed the horrors resulting from the North’s nuclear weapons now tell us not to worry about a few nukes. Yet they also insist that the international order will not stand if America stops garrisoning its populous and prosperous South Korean ally, irrespective of circumstances, forever.

The president sometimes appears to understand the ludicrous claims behind America’s endless defense subsidies to both Asia and Europe. Washington’s partners claim to face dire security threats but expect acclaim when their military outlays hit a staggering 2 percent of GDP. If the Baltic States and Poland really believed Vladimir Putin was planning to play the Stalin card, shouldn’t they be spending 5, 10, or even 15 percent? Shouldn’t they create a tough territorial defense that exacts a high price from any invaders? Instead, they complain, whine, and demand that Washington station troops on their territory. They believe their survival is Americans’ responsibility.

So what security threats does the U.S. actually face?

Forget Moscow. Russia has returned to a pre-1914 imperial power. It wants to be respected, have its interests considered, and make its borders secure, but there is no indication that Putin has any interest in attacking Europe’s periphery, let alone the rest of the continent, and certainly not the U.S. Moscow’s treatment of Ukraine is brutal and wrong, but it is largely a reaction against foolishly aggressive allied policies, most notably our ignoring previous commitments not to expand NATO eastward. Russia differs from Washington on issues such as Syria, but that doesn’t even rise to an important concern for America.

The U.S. has few security worries in Africa and Latin America either. Absent both the capacity and intent to strike America’s homeland, forces there do not pose a threat. The Middle East matters ever less, given America’s energy resurgence. Israel is a regional superpower, and despite hysterical Saudi-inspired scare-mongering, Iran has neither amassed nor is capable of amassing an empire. Syria is a tragic irrelevancy. Washington’s ally Saudi Arabia is the most repressive, dangerous, and irresponsible state in the region.

Asia matters more, but only China poses anything approaching a military threat to America. And such a confrontation would not be over U.S. territories—no Chinese task force will be heading east to capture Pearl Harbor anytime soon. Rather, the challenge arises from Washington’s attempt to dominate East Asia along the PRC’s border, something of great interest to Beijing. Better for America to stay back and encourage the development of an informal coalition to constrain China. That means maintaining friendly relations with India and ending a needlessly hostile policy toward Russia. Pushing Moscow toward Beijing for no purpose—Russia won’t return Crimea outside of a war, which would be devastating for all concerned—is one of the Obama and Trump administrations’ dumber policies.

Early America’s nonintervention in the Old World’s conflicts was seen a necessity due to the new nation’s weakness. Today, strategic independence is a prudent strategy made possible by America’s strength. Little truly threatens the United States, and that which does can be deterred. Like North Korea.

 

The Trump Administration Is Reshaping the Country Under the Guise of National Security.

The Energy Sector Is Next.

June 29, 2018

by Kate Aronoff

The Intercept

The Trump administration is unilaterally reshaping the United States under the cover of national security. The White House’s justification for its “zero tolerance” policy of separating families at the border was based on the president’s powers over national security.

President Donald Trump’s Muslim travel ban was justified on grounds of national security, as are his vague “extreme vetting” proposals for visa applicants. Now, his Energy Department is looking to reshape the energy industry and reverse the trend away from coal-fired power plants. Their justification?

National security.

Yet in the case of the energy industry, nobody is buying the rationale, and the radical intervention into energy markets has produced an odd-bedfellows coalition of opposition that includes the oil and gas industry, renewable energy companies, and environmentalists.

On the other side, in support of the White House, stands the coal and nuclear and industry, headed up by Murray Energy and First Energy, who’ve long lobbied for just such a lifeline.

Speaking at the World Gas Conference this week in Washington, Energy Secretary Rick Perry assured the government and industry representatives present that the U.S. is working to “honor the right of every nation to use every available fuel at its disposal. I wish I can tell you the entire developed world is on board with our vision. They are not.”

Neither is much of the oil and gas industry that was gathered before him. Thanks to his plan to bail out struggling power plants — a measure opposed by the likes of the American Petroleum Institute — Perry now finds himself caught in the crosshairs between two dueling arms of the fossil fuel industry.

A Department of Energy memo first obtained by Bloomberg details the Trump administration’s plan to subsidize struggling coal and nuclear plants. The justification is that a lack of reliability in the electric grid represents a threat to national security. It’s not clear what action the administration has taken on the draft memo, but if implemented, the measure would allow the Energy Department to activate wartime powers under the Defense Production of Act of 1950, enacted in response to the Korean War.

Ahead of the conference, Perry had been coy about how the plan would unfold, likely in an effort to avoid further backlash from the industry with which he hopes to maintain cozy ties. Attending the same event, Patrick Pouyanne, CEO of the French gas giant Total, had harsh words for Perry’s vision. “The U.S. administration tries to promote coal-fired plants, but frankly if you find an investor who wants to invest 25 years in coal-fired plants,” he chided, “I would not buy the shares of that company.”

The most powerful opponent of Trump and Perry’s plan, however, might be from a body handpicked by the White House: the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Discussing the draft measure at a Senate oversight committee hearing several weeks ago, Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., asked members of the FERC — which is dominated by Trump appointees — if they “believe that in the wholesale power markets we’re facing an actual national security emergency at the moment?”

“I do not, senator. I think the markets …” FERC Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur started to respond before Heinrich cut her off: “Anyone want to answer that with a yes?”

No one did.

The plan is a zombified version of one struck down unanimously by FERC earlier this year, in which Perry’s Energy Department — at the behest of Murray Energy and FirstEnergy — proposed a new FERC rule that would mandate electric customers pay to keep coal and nuclear plants online that would otherwise be shuttered. The new version, according to the memo, would see the department mandate that grid operators buy up power from flailing power providers for two years, driving up monthly costs for ratepayers as much as $65 million. In 2017, before Perry’s proposed FERC rule change, Murray begged Trump for a comparable measure, which the administration considered but eventually rejected. Each of these measures has drawn the ire of oil and gas interests, anti-nuclear activists, and environmentalists.

This new memo, first circulated in advance of a National Security Council meeting late last month, appears designed specifically to write out a role for FERC, though energy analyst Cathy Kunkel of the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis said it’s “hard to imagine that you could change the wholesale market without FERC being involved,” given that it’s the main body responsible for regulating energy markets.

Invoking wartime powers to prop up struggling energy sources is a remarkable step for the administration to take. The Defense Production Act is intended to give the executive branch sweeping powers to nationalize industries that are vital to national security or for dealing with natural disasters. It was first invoked by former President Harry Truman in 1952 to nationalize the steel sector during the Korean War, in an attempt to pre-empt a nationwide strike by the United Steelworkers of America and prove to the nation that he wasn’t “soft on communism.” (The Supreme Court later decided that Truman didn’t have the authority to seize private property, as the war in Korea had never been formally declared.)

As Perry himself stated last month, “There is no free market for energy,” and the new rule he’s backing would actively intervene against prevailing trends in the energy market, where natural gas has reliably outcompeted coal over the last several years. Perry, though, isn’t wrong: The U.S. subsidizes fossil fuels to the tune of about $15 billion per year, according to a recent study from Oil Change International, and it regularly tips the scales in fossil fuel producers’ favor. At most, though, the administration’s proposed bailout could only kick the can of coal’s decline farther down the road. “I would not think that uncompetitive coal plants are going to be more competitive in two years than they are now,” Kunkel said.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., a member of the committee, decried the memo as a “radical proposal,” and said in her opening statement that the commission’s work “shouldn’t really be about bailing out one sector.” Cantwell added in a separate statement to The Intercept that, “it is clear that the public servants actually in charge of grid reliability and just and reasonable rates don’t see a need for a coal bailout. I hope my colleagues will take their views seriously and oppose any radical next steps by the Trump Administration.”

In the hearing, Cantwell also referenced a statement from representatives of the PJM Interchange — the utility market where most of the plants that would be affected by the rule operate — stating that no such emergency exists. As PJM CEO Andy Ott told Utility Dive after news of the memo broke, “We don’t think there’s an emergency today. We said that very bluntly and very publicly.” The North American Electric Reliability Corporation, the federal body responsible for power reliability, has echoed that sentiment.

Throughout the hearing, FERC commissioners shot down suggestions from Republican and some Democratic senators that coal and nuclear plants are in dire need of the proposed subsidies.

After Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., insisted that only coal and nuclear qualify as “baseload” power — the kind that can offer uninterrupted power for distribution — FERC Commissioner Robert F. Powelson corrected him, explaining that hydropower and natural gas both qualify, and that generation capacity for the latter has proliferated over the last several years. “We’re tickled to death to have the gas capacity we have, which is tremendous in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. But it can be interruptible,” Manchin shot back. “But so are those other sources,” Powelson noted, referring to coal and nuclear. He also said the measure would “threaten to collapse the wholesale competitive markets that have long been a cornerstone of FERC policy,” and called it the “greatest federal moral hazard we’ve seen in years.” (Powelson, a Republican, on Thursday announced his resignation from the FERC to become the CEO of the National Association of Water Companies, a move some have speculated was spurred by the row over the bailout memo.)

Neil Chatterjee was the only FERC commissioner to offer even a tepid defense of the Energy Department’s proposal. He echoed his colleagues’ arguments that there currently is no grid reliability crisis, but added the slight caveat that the Trump administration “should not assume that good fortune will continue.”

The future of the measure is unclear. The open question now, Kunkel told me, is whether the Department of Energy will look to push through the measure unilaterally using executive authority. “The implementation details are quite vague,” she said.

Manchin and Sen. Shelley Capito, R-W.Va. — both beneficiaries of generous coal industry campaign contributions — supported the memo, justifying it as a way to help out struggling Appalachian communities, which have been hit hard by coal’s decline. Notably, that task doesn’t fall under the mandate of either the Department of Energy or FERC, and there’s not much reason to believe the bailout would be much of a boon to struggling coalfield counties.

“We’ve had a lot of economic growth but haven’t had real development because of the nature of resource extraction,” Ted Boettner, executive director of the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, told me. Most profits from extraction are funneled outside the state or to already wealthy executives within it. The U.N. Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, recently visited West Virginia while compiling a report on the U.S. and noted state residents’ startling lack of access to broadband and drinkable water.

“West Virginia has billions of dollars in legacy costs from coal mining: deteriorating roads, pension liabilities, health care liabilities, and liabilities due to surface mining,” Boettner said in an interview. “We could be spending lots of money putting people to work cleaning up the mess than has been made by the coal industry.”

Far better for West Virginia than temporarily propping up coal plants, Boettner said, would be more robust federal investment. He pointed to the RECLAIM Act — a bill introduced last year that would release $1 billion to help reclaim abandoned mine lands, fuel investment in Appalachia, and diversify the economy away from extraction — as an example of a measure that would help the state. Both of West Virginia’s senators have supported the RECLAIM Act, though Boettner said it hasn’t been a major priority for either of them. (The legislation has languished in the House after its passage through the House Natural Resources Committee, and a Senate version sits in a similar limbo.)

West Virginia’s traditionally low fuel prices have skyrocketed in recent years because of the state’s over-reliance on coal-fired power generation amid the rise of natural gas, Boettner explained. Remedying fuel costs and the other economic issues facing West Virginia demands changes much more far-reaching than subsidies to coal plants. “Instead of more corporate welfare for the coal industry, our state’s congressional delegation in Washington should be looking for ways to give West Virginians more energy sources,” he said. “I think we’re sort of whistling past the graveyard of the clean energy revolution.”

 

Protestors, lawmaker arrested in Senate building sit-in over immigration

June 28, 2018

by Makini Brice

Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Some 600 protestors were arrested during a clangorous occupation of a U.S. Senate office building in Washington on Thursday, where they decried U.S. President Donald Trump’s “zero- tolerance” stance on illegal immigration.

The protesters, mostly women dressed in white, sat on the Hart Senate Office Building’s marbled floors and wrapped themselves in metallic silver blankets similar to those given to migrant children separated from their families by U.S. immigration officials.

Their chant “Say it loud, say it clear, immigrants are welcome here” echoed through the building, drawing scores of Senate staff to upper mezzanine floors from where they watched the commotion.

Capitol Police warned protestors that if they did not leave the building they would be arrested. Soon after, protesters were lined against a wall in small groups and police confiscated their blankets and signs.

It took police about 90 minutes to arrest them and end the demonstration. Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, a Democrat, sat with the protestors and was also arrested.

Capitol Police said in a statement that about 575 people were charged with unlawfully demonstrating and they would be processed at the scene and released. They said people who were charged and fined could pay 24 hours after their arrests, but it was not clear who had been fined and how much.

Democratic senators Mazie Hirono, Tammy Duckworth, Kirsten Gillibrand and Jeff Merkley, who have been critical of Trump’s immigration policies, spoke with some of the protesters. Gillibrand held a sign that read: “End Detentions Now.”

Women’s March, a movement that began in the United States when Trump was inaugurated in 2017 and spread around the world, had called on women to risk arrest at Thursday’s protest.

Organizers said in a statement that 630 women were arrested during the protest.

“We are rising up to demand an end to the criminalization of immigrants,” Linda Sarsour, one of the leaders of the Women’s March, said in the statement.

Before arriving at Capitol Hill, the protesters marched down Pennsylvania Avenue, pausing to chant “Shame! Shame! Shame!” at the Trump International Hotel.

The Women’s March demonstration is part of a wave of actions against Trump, whose administration began seeking in May to prosecute all adults who cross the border without authorization.

More than 2,000 children who arrived illegally in the United States with adult relatives were separated from them and placed in detention facilities or with foster families around the United States.

The policy led to intense criticism in the United States and abroad, and Trump signed an executive order that would let children stay with their parents as they moved through the legal system, drawing renewed criticism.

Loretta Fudoli took a bus to Washington from Conway, Arkansas, to join Thursday’s protest. She said she had been arrested at demonstrations three or four times since she became politically active after Trump’s election.

“Their parents shouldn’t even be locked up,” Fudoli said. “This is not a bad enough crime to lock them up and take their children away.”

Most of the children separated from their families before the order was signed have not yet been reunited with them.

The White House has said that the order was not a long-term solution and has called for Congress to pass immigration reform. A

Larger protests are being planned for Saturday in Washington, D.C., and cities around the country under the banner of #FamiliesBelongTogether

Reporting by Makini Brice; Writing by Bill Tarrant and Jonathan Allen; Editing by David Gregorio, Toni Reinhold

 

Pentagon asked to house up to 32,000 illegal immigrants on military bases

June 28, 2018

by Jamie McIntyre

The Washington Examiner

The Pentagon has been asked to find or make room on U.S. military bases for up to 12,000 additional people who are members of migrant families, bringing the total number of beds requested for immigrants who crossed the southern border illegally to 32,000.

“It’s up to 20,000 beds for kids and up to 12,000 beds for families,” said Lt. Col. Jamie Davis, a Pentagon spokesman.

The latest request from the Department of Homeland Security asks the Pentagon to first look around to see if it has existing facilities that could house “an alien family population of up to 12,000 people.”

If there are no existing facilities available, then DHS is requesting the military begin to construct tent cities, referred to as “semi-separate, soft-sided camp facilities,” to house up to 4,000 people at three separate locations.

DHS says the camps need to be located in border states: Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, or California in order to comply with a court ruling known as the Flores Settlement that requires “reasonable efforts be made to place minors in the geographic area where the majority are apprehended.”

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has already committed to provide up to 20,000 beds at two bases in Texas to house unaccompanied minors — Fort Bliss and Goodfellow Air Force Base — but DHS is now asking for three more facilities at other locations.

 

Canada hits back at U.S. on tariffs, says it will not back down

June 29, 2018

by David Ljunggren

Reuters

OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canada struck back at the Trump administration over U.S. steel and aluminum tariffs on Friday, vowing to impose punitive measures on C$16.6 billion ($12.63 billion) worth of American goods until Washington relents.

The announcement by Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland marks a new low in ties between the neighbors and trading partners which have become increasingly strained since U.S. President Donald Trump took power in January 2017.

The Canadian tariffs will come into effect on July 1 and largely target U.S. steel and aluminum products, but also foodstuffs such as coffee, ketchup and whiskies, according to a list by the Department of Finance. tinyurl.com/y8w5g895

“We will not escalate and we will not back down,” Freeland told reporters at a Stelco Holdings Inc plant in the Ontario steel city of Hamilton.

Officials say the measures are designed in part to pressure Trump by focusing on goods from states where his political allies hold sway.

Canada’s Liberal party government said last month it would retaliate after Trump moved against steel and aluminum imports from Canada and other nations, citing security grounds.

“We are acting very much in sorrow, not in anger,” said Freeland, stressing the closeness of the overall relationship. Bilateral trade is worth around C$2 billion a day.

Freeland said she had already spoken to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer six times this week and was prepared to meet at any time to tackle the issue.

Ottawa also unveiled an aid package for affected industries and workers worth up to C$2 billion, consisting mainly of up to C$1.7 billion in commercial financing and insurance for firms in the steel and aluminum sectors and related industries.

The Trump administration is studying whether to put tariffs on Canadian autos, which economists say would help plunge the economy into a recession. Freeland called the idea “absolutely absurd”.

The U.S. embassy in Ottawa said it had no immediate comment.

While opposition parties have so far largely backed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for standing up to Trump, their support could be tested once the U.S. tariffs start to bite.

Trudeau, who usually attends celebrations in Ottawa on July 1 to mark the Canada Day holiday, will instead spend part of the weekend with families of steel workers in the western province of Saskatchewan, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said on Twitter. Goodale is from Saskatchewan, where Evraz plc has a major plant.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said earlier this month the tariffs were designed in part to stop cheap steel entering the United States via Canada and other countries.

Ottawa would take measures to stop the dumping of steel in the coming weeks once it had finished consulting stakeholders, said Canadian Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains, appearing at the same event as Freeland.

In Washington, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association said the tariffs would hit $170 million worth of U.S. beef products.

“We believe that cooperation is a better path forward than escalation,” said Kent Bacus, the association’s director of international trade and market access.

U.S. officials have also linked the tariffs to slow progress in talks to modernize the North American Free Trade Agreement, which Trump says is a disaster and must be changed.

Freeland said she expected the negotiations would enter an intensive phase after a Mexican presidential election on July 1.

Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Dan Grebler and Grant McCool

 

 

Georgian ex-president sentenced in absentia for abuse of power

June 28, 2018

Reuters

TBILISI (Reuters) – A Georgian court sentenced former leader Mikheil Saakashvili in absentia to six years in prison on Thursday for abuse of power and seeking to cover up evidence about the beating of an opposition member of parliament when he was president.

His supporters had denounced the verdict as politically motivated. He has denied all charges against him.

Saakashvili was sentenced to a separate three years in prison in January after being convicted of seeking to cover up evidence about the murder of a Georgian banker.

Georgian authorities have said they will seek the extradition of Saakashvili, who was president of the Caucasus republic from 2004-2013.

A court in the Georgian capital Tbilisi found Saakashvili guilty of abusing his presidential powers by trying to conceal evidence about the 2005 beating of opposition member of parliament Valery Gelashvili.

“It’s very important to say that the court categorically rules out any political motivation behind the verdict,” Judge Shorena Guntsadze said in court.

Saakashvili’s allies called the verdict illegal.

“The court and prosecutor’s office have lost the trust of the people and have no right to take such decisions,” said Nika Melia, a member of Saakashvili’s United National Movement.

Saakashvili, 50, who left Georgia after his second presidential term expired, moved to the Netherlands after being expelled from Ukraine into neighbouring Poland in February.

Reporting by Margarita Antidze; editing by Mark Heinrich

 

The Broken Encirclement Plan: Nato in Eastern Europe

June 30, 2018

by Christian Jürs

The first serious, and successful, U.S. direct interference in Russian leadership policies was in 1953. An ageing Josef Stalin, suffering from arteriosclerosis and becoming increasingly hostile to his subordinates, was poisoned by Laverenti P. Beria, head of his secret police. Beria, was a Mingrelian Jew, very ruthless and a man who ordered and often supervised the executions of people Stalin suspected of plotting against him, had fallen out of favor with Stalin and had come to believe that he was on the list of those Stalin wished to remove. With his intelligence connection, Beria was contacted by the American CIA through one of his trusted agents in Helskinki and through this contact, Beria was supplied dosages of warfarin  The first drug in the class to be widely commercialized was dicoumarol itself, patented in 1941 and later used as a pharmaceutical. potent coumarin-based anticoagulants for use as rodent poisons, resulting in warfarin in 1948. The name warfarin stems from the acronym WARF, for Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation + the ending -arin indicating its link with coumarin. Warfarin was first registered for use as a rodenticide in the US in 1948, and was immediately popular; although it was developed by Link, the WARF financially supported the research and was assigned the patent.

Warfarin was used by a Lavrenti Beria to poison Stalin. Stalin’s cooks and personal bodyguards were all under the direct control of  Beria. He acknowledged to other top Soviet leaders that he had poisoned Stalin, according to Molotov’s memoirs. Nikita Khrushchev and others to poison Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. Warfarin is tasteless and colorless, and produces symptoms similar to those that Stalin exhibited. Stalin collapsed during the night after a dinner with Beria and other Soviet leaders, and died four days later on 5 March 1953.

Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov, in his political memoirs (published posthumously in 1993), claimed that Beria told him that he had poisoned Stalin. “I took him out,” Beria supposedly boasted. There is evidence that after Stalin was found unconscious, medical care was not provided for many hours. Other evidence of the murder of Stalin by Beria associates was presented by Edvard Radzinsky in his biography Stalin. It has been suggested that warfarin was used; it would have produced the symptoms reported.

After the fall of Gorbachev and his replacement by Boris Yeltsin, a known CIA connection, the Russian criminal mob was encouraged by the CIA to move into the potentially highly lucrative Russian natural resource field.

By 1993 almost all banks in Russia were owned by the mafia, and 80% of businesses were paying protection money. In that year, 1400 people were murdered in Moscow, crime members killed businessmen who would not pay money to them, as well as reporters, politicians, bank owners and others opposed to them. The new criminal class of Russia took on a more Westernized and businesslike approach to organized crime as the more code-of-honor based Vory faded into extinction.

The Izmaylovskaya gang was considered one of the country’s most important and oldest Russian Mafia groups in Moscow and also had a presence in Tel Aviv, Berlin, Paris, Toronto, Miami and New York City. It was founded during the 1980s under the leadership of Oleg Ivanov and was estimated to consist of about 200 active members (according to other data of 300–500 people). In principle, the organization was divided into two separate bodies—Izmailovskaya and Gol’yanovskaya  which utilized quasi-military ranks and strict internal discipline. It was involved extensively in murder-for-hire, extortions, and infiltration of legitimate businesses.

The gangs were termed the Oligarchy and were funded by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the Israeli-owned Bank of New York all with the assisance of the American government.

The arrival of Vladimir Putin as the new leader of Russia was at first ignored in Washington. A former KGB Lt. Colonel who had been stationed in East Germany, Putin was viewed as inconsequential, bland and colorless by the purported Russian experts in both the Department of State and the CIA.

Putin, however, proved to be a dangerous opponent who blocked the Oligarchs attempt to control the oil fields and other assets, eventual control of which had been promised to both American and British firms.

The Oligarchs were allowed to leave the country and those remaining behind were forced to follow Putin’s policies. Foreign control over Russian natural resources ceased and as both the CIA, various foreign firms and the American government had spent huge sums greasing the skids, there was now considerable negative feelings towards Putin.

The next serious moves against Russia came with a plan conceived by the CIA and fully approved by President George W. Bush, whose father had once been head of the CIA.

This consisted of ‘Operation Sickle’ which was designed to surround the western and southern borders of Russia with states controlled by the United States through the guise of NATO membership. Included in this encirclement program were the Baltic States, Poland, the Czech Republic, Georgia and a number of Asiatic states bordering southern Russia. It was the stated intention of the NATO leadership to put military missiles in all these countries. The so-called “Orange Revolution” funded and directed by the CIA, overthrew the pro-Moscow government in the Ukraine, giving the United States theoretical control over the heavy industrialized Donetz Basin and most importantly, the huge former Soviet naval base at Sebastopol.

The Georgia Train and Equip Program (GTEP) was an American-sponsored 18-month, $64-million program aimed at increasing the capabilities of the Georgian armed forces by training and equipping four 600-man battalions with light weapons, vehicles and communications. The program enabled the US to expedite funding for the Georgian military for Operation Enduring Freedom.

On February 27, 2002, the US media reported that the U.S. would send approximately two hundred United States Army Special Forces soldiers to Georgia to train Georgian troops. The program implemented President Bush’s decision to respond to the Government of Georgia’s request for assistance to enhance its counter-terrorism capabilities and addressed the situation in the Pankisi Gorge.

The program began in May 2002 when American special forces soldiers began training select units of the Georgian Armed Forces, including the 12th Commando Light Infantry Battalion, the 16th Mountain-Infantry Battalion, the 13th “Shavnabada” Light Infantry Battalion, the 11th Light Infantry Battalion, a mechanized company and small numbers of Interior Ministry troops and border guards.

Eventually, responsibility for training Georgian forces was turned over to the US Marine Corps in conjunction with the British Army. British and American teams worked as part of a joint effort to train each of the four infantry battalion staffs and their organic rifle companies. This training began with the individual soldier and continued through fire team, squad, platoon, company, and battalion level tactics as well as staff planning and organization. Upon completing training, each of the new Georgian infantry battalions began preparing for deployment rotations in support of the Global War on Terrorism

The CIA were instrumental in getting Mikheil Saakashvili, an erratic policician, pro-West, into the presidency of Georgia but although he allowed the country to be flooded with American arms and “military trainers” he was not a man easily controlled and under the mistaken belief that Ameriacn military might supported him, commenced to threaten Moscow. Two Georgian provinces were heavily populated by Russians and objected to the inclusion in Georgia and against them, Saakashvili began to make threatening moves.

The 2008 South Ossetia War or Russo-Georgian War (in Russia also known as the Five-Day War) was an armed conflict in August 2008 between Georgia on one side, and Russia and separatist governments of South Ossetia and Abkhazia on the other.

During the night of 7 to 8 August 2008, Georgia launched a large-scale military offensive against South Ossetia, in an attempt to reclaim the territory. Georgia claimed that it was responding to attacks on its peacekeepers and villages in South Ossetia, and that Russia was moving non-peacekeeping units into the country. The Georgian attack caused casualties among Russian peacekeepers, who resisted the assault along with Ossetian militia. Georgia successfully captured most of Tskhinvali within hours. Russia reacted by deploying units of the Russian 58th Army and Russian Airborne Troops in South Ossetia, and launching airstrikes against Georgian forces in South Ossetia and military and logistical targets in Georgia proper. Russia claimed these actions were a necessary humanitarian intervention and peace enforcement.

When the Russian incursion was seen as massive and serious, U.S. president George W. Bush’s statement to Russia was: “Bullying and intimidation are not acceptable ways to conduct foreign policy in the 21st century.” The US Embassy in Georgia, describing the Matthew Bryza press-conference, called the war an “incursion by one of the world’s strongest powers to destroy the democratically elected government of a smaller neighbor”.

Initially the Bush Administration seriously considered a military response to defend Georgia, but such an intervention was ruled out by the Pentagon due to the inevitable conflict it would lead to with Russia. Instead, Bush opted for a softer option by sending humanitarian supplies to Georgia by military, rather than civilian, aircraft. And he ordered the immediate evacuation of all American military units from Georgia. The huge CIA contingent in the Georgian capital fled by aircraft and the American troops, mostly U.S. Marines, evacuated quickly to the Black Sea where they were evacuated by the U.S. Navy. British and Israeli military units also fled the country and all of them had to leave behind an enormous amount of military eqipment to include tanks, light armored vehicles, small arms, radio equipment, and trucks full of intelligence data they had neither the time nor forersignt to destroy.

The immediate result of this demarche was the defection of the so-called “NATO Block” eastern Europeans from the Bush/CIA project who saw the United States as a paper tiger that would not, and could not, defend them against the Russians. In a sense, the Russian incursion into Georgia was a massive political, not a military, victory.

The CIA was not happy with the actions of Vladimir Putin and when he recently ran for reelection, they poured money into the hands of Putin’s enemies, hoping to reprise the Ukrainian Orange Revolution but the effort was in vain.

 

Syrian offensive uprooted 120,000 people so far, U.N. warns of catastrophe

June 29, 2018

Reuters

BEIRUT/GENEVA  – More than 120,000 civilians have been uprooted by a Syrian army offensive in the southwest since it began last week, a war monitor said on Friday, and a senior U.N. official warned of catastrophe as they risked being trapped between warring sides.

Government forces and their allies appeared to be making significant gains in eastern Deraa province, where state media said they marched into several towns. A rebel official said opposition front lines had collapsed.

The Russian-backed offensive has killed at least 98 civilians, including 19 children, since June 19, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

It has also driven tens of thousands of people toward the border with Jordan and thousands more to the frontier with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, the UK-based monitor said.

Israel and Jordan – which is already hosting 650,000 Syrians – say they will not let refugees in.

“We left under bombardment, barrel bombs, (air strikes by) Russian and Syrian warplanes,” said Abu Khaled al-Hariri, 36, who fled from al-Harak town to the Golan frontier with his wife and five children.

“We are waiting for God to help us, for tents, blankets, mattresses, aid for our children to eat and drink.”

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said there was a grave risk of many civilians being trapped between government forces, rebel groups and Islamic State militants who have a small foothold there, an outcome he said would be a “catastrophe”.

“The real concern is that we are going to see a repetition of what we saw in eastern Ghouta – the bloodshed, the suffering, the civilians being held, being under a siege,” U.N. human rights spokeswoman Liz Throssell said.

Syrian government forces backed by Russian air power have turned their focus to the rebel-held southwest since defeating the last remaining besieged insurgent pockets, including eastern Ghouta, near Damascus. The assault has so far targeted Deraa, not rebel-held parts of nearby Quneitra province at the Golan frontier which are more sensitive to Israel.

The campaign has shattered a “de-escalation” deal negotiated by the United States, Russia and Jordan that had mostly contained fighting in the southwest since last year.

President Bashar al-Assad pressed ahead with the offensive despite U.S. condemnations and warnings of “serious repercussions”. The United States has told rebels not to expect military support against the assault.

The chief Syrian opposition negotiator Nasr al-Hariri on Thursday decried “U.S. silence” over the offensive and said only a “malicious deal” could explain the lack of a U.S. response.

The Kremlin said Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump will have a detailed discussion about Syria when they meet in July.

EASTERN DERAA PROVINCE

The war has been going Assad’s way since Russia intervened on his side in 2015, when he held just a fraction of the country. Today he commands the single largest part of Syria, though much of the north and east is outside his control.

Syrian troops have seized a swathe of rebel territory northeast of Deraa city. State TV broadcast scenes of what they said were locals celebrating the army’s arrival in the formerly rebel-held town of Ibta, where they said rebels were turning in their weapons.

State media said that government forces seized al-Harak and Rakham towns, and that insurgents in four other towns agreed to surrender their weapons and make “reconciliation” deals with the government.

“Most of the (people in) the eastern villages have fled to west Deraa and to Quneitra,” said Abu Shaima, a Free Syrian Army rebel spokesman.

Another rebel official said some towns were trying to negotiate deals with the state on their own. “There was a collapse in

the eastern front yesterday,” he added. “The front in Deraa city is steadfast.”

Al-Manar TV, run by Assad’s Lebanese ally Hezbollah, said the army captured a hill overlooking a road linking eastern and western parts of Deraa province – an advance that would mean rebels could no longer safely use it.

The seven-year-long war has already displaced six million people inside Syria and driven 5.5 million abroad as refugees, and killed hundreds of thousands of people.

ISRAEL SENDS AID, WON’T OPEN FRONTIER

Many of the civilians on the move have fled from areas east and northeast of Deraa city and from the heavily populated rebel-held town of Nawa to its northwest.

Observatory Director Rami Abdulrahman, speaking by phone, said some people had also crossed into government-held areas, while others had gone to a corner of the southwest held by an Islamic State-affiliated group.

Jordan reiterated its position that newly displaced Syrians must be helped inside Syria. “Jordan has reached its capacity in receiving refugees,” Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi told the pan-Arab broadcaster al-Jazeera late on Thursday.

Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, in an interview with Tel Aviv Radio 102FM, said: “I think we must prevent the entry of refugees from Syria to Israel, in the past we have prevented such cases.”

The Israeli military said an increased number of civilians had been spotted in refugee camps on the Syrian side ofthe Golan over the past few days, and that it had overnight sent aid supplies at four locations to people fleeing hostilities.

Footage released by the Israeli military on Friday showed a forklift truck unloading palettes with supplies that it said included 300 tents, 28 tonnes of food, medical equipment and medication, footwear and clothing.

Reporting by Tom Perry in Beirut, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Ori Lewis in Jerusalem; Editing by William Maclean and Raissa Kasolowsky

 

 

Turkey will keep importing Iranian crude

June 29, 2018

RT

Turkey will not heed the State Department’s call on US allies to stop importing Iranian crude oil by November 4, when the latest sanctions will kick in.

The decisions taken by the United States on this issue are not binding for us. Of course, we will follow the United Nations on its decision. Other than this, we will only follow our own national interests,” Turkey’s Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci said as quoted by daily Hurriyet, adding that “we will pay attention so our friend Iran will not face any unfair actions.”

The State Department earlier this week called on all US allies to completely stop buying Iranian crude, and although many are trying to find a way around the sanctions, it is for now proving tricky, and many buyers are winding down their purchases of Iranian crude.

At the same time, oil importers including Japan, South Korea, and India, as well as European countries have said they will continue buying Iranian crude. The European Union is particularly concerned about the situation because there is only so much that the three European signatories to the Iran nuclear deal could do to prevent Tehran from exiting it, which might happen if it stops seeing benefits from it, President Hassan Rouhani said.

The nuclear deal, which Iran signed with the US, France, Germany, the UK, Russia, and China, ended the international sanctions that Iran was subjected to because of its nuclear program, and gave it access to international markets, especially oil markets.

Yet, if the unilateral US sanctions lead to a closure of this access, Iran will indeed be locked out of any economic benefits from the nuclear deal. Although Tehran still maintains that the nuclear program was not geared towards the weaponization of uranium, Rouhani—and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei before him—said Iran will ramp it up if the deal with the West falls through.

This article was originally published on Oilprice.com

 

Facebook patents system that can use your phone’s mic to monitor TV habits

System would allow Facebook to identify what adults and children are watching based on ambient noise

June 28, 2018

by Olivia Solon in San Francisco

The Guardian

Facebook has patented a system that can remotely activate the microphone on someone’s phone using inaudible signals broadcast via a television.

The patent application describes a system where an audio fingerprint embedded in TV shows or ads, inaudible to human ears, would trigger the phone, tablet or long-rumoured smart speaker to turn on the microphone and start recording “ambient audio of the content item”. The recording could then be matched to a database of content to allow Facebook to identify what the individual was watching – like Shazam for TV, but without the individual choosing to activate the system.

Diagrams accompanying the patent highlight how the technology would know which adult or child within a household was watching a particular broadcast.

The patent, first spotted by the New York Times, positions the technology as a way for broadcasters to know exactly who is watching their TV shows or ads and for how long. The same system could then be used to build viewing profiles of individual members of a household for better content recommendation and more targeted advertising.

Privacy experts are concerned about the intrusion into people’s homes, particularly as the ambient audio recording would likely catch snippets of people’s private conversations without their knowledge.

“It’s extremely disconcerting for privacy to have an inaudible beacon as it means they want to make it not obvious to the user that the device is listening,” said William Budington, a senior staff technologist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Such a system could also give Facebook a better understanding of people’s social connections as it would show the social network which people were meeting up in real life.

Facebook was quick to downplay the patent filing.

“It is common practice to file patents to prevent aggression from other companies. Because of this, patents tend to focus on future-looking technology that is often speculative in nature and could be commercialised by other companies,” said Facebook’s head of intellectual property, Allen Lo, in a statement.

“The technology in this patent has not been included in any of our products, and never will be.”

Facebook isn’t the first company to design a system that uses secretly broadcast audio signals to track people’s viewing habits. In 2015, a company called SilverPush developed ultrasonic audio “beacons” within TV commercials that could be identified by any device running apps that incorporated SilverPush’s software.

The system allows for far more accurate tracking of people’s viewing habits at an individual level.

In March 2016, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued warning letters to app developers who had installed the software encouraging them to notify people that their app could allow third parties to monitor their viewing habits.

“These apps were capable of listening in the background and collecting information about consumers without notifying them,” said Jessica Rich, the director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Companies should tell people what information is collected, how it is collected, and who it’s shared with.”

Less than a week later, SilverPush announced it was killing the tracking software to move into “new areas of growth and profitability”.

The idea that Facebook already listens to people’s conversations and uses that information to deliver targeted advertising has been a popular conspiracy theory for years. It appeared to originate in May 2014 when the company launched a feature called “Identify TV and Music”, which listened to ambient noise when a user was writing a status update – with their permission. At the time the company had to assuage people’s fears that the feature was always on, eavesdropping in the background.

Despite denials, the rumour persisted and in October 2017 the company’s head of advertising Rob Godman had to issue another denial in response to an investigation carried out by tech podcast Reply All.

“I run ads product at Facebook. We don’t – and have never – used your microphone for ads. Just not true,” Goldman tweeted.

 

California lawmakers approve data-privacy bill opposed by Silicon Valley

June 28, 2018

by Paresh Dave

Reuters

SAN FRANCISCO  – California Governor Jerry Brown on Thursday signed data privacy legislation aimed at giving consumers more control over how companies collect and manage their personal information, a proposal that Google and other big companies had opposed as too burdensome

Under the proposal, large companies, such as those with data on more than 50,000 people, would be required starting in 2020 to let consumers view the data they have collected on them, request deletion of data, and opt out of having the data sold to third parties. Companies must provide equal service to consumers who exercise such rights under the law.

Each violation would carry a $7,500 fine. The law applies to users in California.

“This is a huge step forward for California,” State Senator Bob Hertzberg, a Democrat, said during a livestreamed press conference Thursday. “This is a huge step forward for people across the country.”

Brown signed the measure hours after it unanimously passed the two houses of the legislature as part of an effort to stop a similar measure from reaching the state’s November election ballot.

Laws originating in the legislature instead of from ballot initiatives are easier to amend if issues arise, and even opponents in the business community characterized the legislature’s version as the lesser of two evils.

Alastair Mactaggart, a California real estate developer who spent about $1.4 million earlier this year to qualify the measure for the ballot, had until Thursday evening to pull his initiative before state officials set the ballot. Mactaggart had agreed to do so if Brown signed the bill.

He described the compromise on Thursday as a “landmark accomplishment, which is the strictest privacy bill ever achieved in this country.”

The measure would affect nearly every major business, but large technology firms that play an ever-increasing role in online communications and commerce are a big target. Data breaches affecting Facebook Inc (FB.O), Uber Technologies Inc and other companies have generated increased public pressure for regulators to step in.

Executives at Alphabet Inc’s (GOOGL.O) Google had warned that the measure could have unintended consequences but have not said what those might be.

“We think there’s a set of ramifications that’s really difficult to understand,” Google senior vice president Sridhar Ramaswamy told reporters on Tuesday. “User privacy needs to be thoughtfully balanced against legitimate business needs.”

The Internet Association, which also represents Facebook and Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O), had opposed the bill, as had the California Chamber of Commerce, National Retail Federation and the Association of National Advertisers.

CTIA, a wireless industry trade group, called on the U.S. Congress to pass legislation instead.

“State-specific laws will stifle American innovation and confuse consumers,” CTIA said.

Eric Goldman, a technology law professor at Santa Clara University, said on his blog this week that the law “will likely” affect users outside of California too “because of the hassle and expense of building state-by-state consumer” experiences.

Reporting by Paresh Dave; Editing by David Gregorio

 

Secrecy News

From the FAS Project on Government Secrecy

Volume 2018, Issue No. 42

June 28, 2018

A LEAK PROSECUTION THAT DIDN’T HAPPEN

Government prosecutors have been aggressively pursuing suspected leakers of classified information:

Reality Winner, accused of disclosing a document “information relating to the national defense” to a news outlet, changed her plea this week from “not guilty” to “guilty.”

Former FBI agent Terry J. Albury likewise pleaded guilty last April to unauthorized retention and disclosure of national defense information.

Former Senate Intelligence Committee security officer James A. Wolfe was indicted this month for allegedly lying to the FBI in the course of a leak investigation.

And also this month, Joshua Adam Schulte was indicted for allegedly disclosing national defense information to a certain “organization that purports to publicly disseminate classified, sensitive, and confidential information.”

But not every leak results in an official leak investigation. And not every leak investigation produces a suspect. Nor is every leak suspect prosecuted.

In its latest semi-annual report, the Office of the Intelligence Community Inspector General describes one recent case of an acknowledged leaker of classified information who was allowed to resign without prosecution.

The IC Inspector General “substantiated allegations that an ODNI cadre officer disclosed classified information without authorization, transmitted classified information via unauthorized means, and disclosed classified information to persons not authorized to receive it.”

“During a voluntary interview, the ODNI cadre officer admitted to transmitting classified information over unclassified (internet) email to recipients not authorized to receive classified national security information.”

But the matter was resolved outside of the criminal justice system.

“The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia declined prosecution. The officer, who was retirement eligible, retired before termination,” the IC IG report said.

No other details about the episode were disclosed. But the case illustrates that a variety of responses to leak incidents are available to the government short of criminal prosecution.

A House bill to authorize intelligence spending for FY 18 and 19 (HR 6237), introduced yesterday, would require expanded reporting to Congress on unauthorized disclosures of classified information.

TO FIX FOIA, “BEST PRACTICES” WILL NOT BE ENOUGH

Many executive branch agencies have significant backlogs of Freedom of Information Act requests that could be reduced by adopting procedural improvements. And some agencies have made such improvements, a new report from the Government Accountability Office says. Yet substantial backlogs remain.

See Freedom of Information Act: Agencies Are Implementing Requirements but Additional Actions Are Needed, GAO-18-365, June 25.

All of the agencies reviewed had “implemented request tracking systems, and provided training to FOIA personnel.” Most of the agencies had also “provided online access to government information, such as frequently requested records…, designated chief FOIA officers, and… updated their FOIA regulations on time to inform the public of their operations.”

Nevertheless, FOIA is still not functioning well system-wide.

What the GAO report should have said but did not explicitly say is that even if all agencies adopted all of the recommended “best practices” for FOIA processing, they would still face substantial backlogs of unanswered requests.

The simple reason for that is that there is a mismatch between the growing demand from individual FOIA requesters — with 6 million requests filed in the past 9 years — and the resources that are available to satisfy them.

In order to bring the system into some rough alignment, it would be necessary either to increase the amount of agency funding appropriated and allocated for FOIA, or else to regulate the demand from requesters by imposing or increasing fees, limiting the number of requests from individual users, or some other restrictive measure.

None of these steps is appealing and none may be politically feasible. Other than a cursory reference to “available resources,” the GAO report does not address these core issues.

But in the absence of some such move to reconcile the “supply and demand” for FOIA, overall system performance is being degraded and seems unlikely to recover any time soon.

Meanwhile, government agencies have identified no fewer than 237 statutes that they say can be used to withhold information under the Freedom of Information Act, according to the GAO report, which tabulated the statutes. Since 2010, agencies have actually used 75 of those statutes. GAO did not venture an opinion as to whether the exemption statutes were properly and justifiably employed.

Another new report from Open the Government finds that “FOIA lawsuits grew steadily across the government by 57 percent overall for a ten year period, from 2006-15, and increased sharply by 26 percent in FY 2017.”

IMMIGRATION, TRADE, AND MORE FROM CRS

During FY 2016, the Department of Homeland Security detained 352,880 noncitizens, the Congressional Research Service noted in a newly updated report, citing the most recent DHS statistics. See A Primer on U.S. Immigration Policy, June 22, 2018.

Other recently issued CRS reports include the following.

Enforcing U.S. Trade Laws: Section 301 and China, CRS In Focus, June 25, 2018

Debates over Exchange Rates: Overview and Issues for Congress, updated June 22, 2018

U.S. Global Health Assistance: FY2001-FY2019 Request, updated June 22, 2018

The G-7 Summit in Charlevoix, Canada: Changing U.S. Leadership in Global Forums, CRS Insight, June 25, 2018

The United Arab Emirates (UAE): Issues for U.S. Policy, updated June 22, 2018

Hemp as an Agricultural Commodity, updated June 22, 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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